The Mechanics of Monopoly

We all know the problems with Monopoly. It's repetitive, dull, frustratingly competitive, and eventually gets to a point where it’s hard to eliminate players while being perfectly clear that no one else can win. Monopoly is well known for building strong enough emotional reactions that cause table flips, angry verbal tirades, and I dare say a fair amount of tears. Yet this game is a consistent and guaranteed seller.

Each year more copies of Monopoly are reproduced using different intellectual properties, or different locations, but no matter how it is dressed the game remains relatively unchanged. Monopoly has been published in over 47 languages and sold in over 114 countries, with over 300 licensed versions of the game, and sold in over 100,000 game stores. This game is huge and still going strong. So with all that is wrong about it there must be something it is doing right. The last few weeks we have have looked at how a game of Monopoly was developed to make for one of my favourite gaming experiences, and had a look at the history of the Monopoly and the tragic story of Lizzie Magie. This week we break Monopoly down a little and examine it in terms of its game mechanics.

Monopoly board game article part three - The mechanics of MonopolyMonopoly, love it or hate it, there’s just something about it.

The first innovation that we mentioned last time was allowing your pieces to go around the outside of the board. Magie created a feel of a race that was happening between the players as they clambered their way to the best properties. The fact the pieces travelled around the outside of the board was a new idea for 1903. Unlike contemporary games such as Snakes and Ladders (or Chutes and Ladders for many international audiences) the game does not race towards an end line. No matter how you roll you have the chance to get property, get community chest cards, or take a chance. In fact making high rolls can cause one to overshoot the properties they wanted. The race is on for property, but placement on the board is no indication of winning or loosing. You can literally come from behind to win. This is only the first of several mechanics that work together to create an engaging experience.

Monopoly combines a blend of game mechanics that keeps you engaged. Monopoly is traditionally referred to as a roll and move, but it is far more than that. As you move around the board you collect properties competing in a set collection mechanic that provides new opportunities to increase profits. This set collection, by the way, coincides with an area control mechanic. There are two ways to approach this, you can try for a poor house strategy by purchasing all the cheapest properties and building on them to quickly establish dominance. Alternatively you can do the rich house strategy by waiting to the later part of the board and try for the more expensive properties that hit your opponent for big rents. Both are viable strategies despite the rich house strategy statistically edging out the poor house strategy in effectiveness; only just though. Of course the obvious mechanic not mentioned so far is resource management. Whatever strategy you employ you have to watch your income verse outgoings and consider if your purchases are making enough of return to keep you in the game.

Monopoly board game mechanicsSet Collection and Resource Management in Monopoly and other interesting mechanics.

Outside of the control of any player is a considerable amount of randomisers. This comes through the dice rolls that can be be a benefit as much as a curse. Get a double, have another go, get three doubles in a row and go straight to jail. Land on a community chest and get paid $100 or possibly lose that amount in tax. In your planning you must have a constant plan for mitigating bad luck. yet there is one more element that perhaps explains why this game is a constant seller.

Monopoly is one of earliest games to deal with the issue of downtime. As each person takes there turn there is the chance that thy might roll on your property, buy a property you are after, or receive a chance card that causes them to take your money or give you some. This means that each player is personally invested in every roll of the dice. This one mechanic was a substantial break through in gaming. It is clear that Magie created a game that was ahead of its time in building player engagement and there are plenty of reasons why Monopoly is still a hot seller. So why does Monopoly get so much hate?

There is no clear research I can point to to justify my response. I can only speculate on my experience and the reports of others. One of the main problems with Monopoly is reaching the win condition. The game has a fast build up, but plateaus into a painstakingly slow struggle that moves into an even slower suffocation of one players by the front runners. It is also the case that one person will never eliminate all players at once, instead players will be eliminated one at a time. If the randomisers are particularly poor this can leave one player leaving the game early and twiddling their thumbs while the others battle it out.

Finally, it is worth noticing is that the game might just be over played. As as a kid it was really the main game we played for lack of other games. The very thought of having to play again exhausts me. It gives me flash backs to long nights painfully pushing towards the end or giving up in frustration. However, the simplicity of the mechanics employed suit young people but are no complex enough to engage the adult mind. Today we have really pushed game mechanics to be more puzzling and story driven. This provides a great deal of food for thought for the adult brain, which is perfectly acceptable in terms of human development. Give an eight year old Twilight Struggle and the game is overly complex. Monopoly, however, has variety at a level that simple enough for young minds to understand, with enough variety to keep them stimulated.

It is not enough the say that Monopoly is a bad game. I have no problem saying that I do not enjoy playing it. This is in part form exhaustion and also because eI have simply outgrown it. I hope you have enjoyed this exploration into one of the classics.